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Left behind: U.S. government denies justice for Marine families whose lives were ruined at contaminated Camp Lejeune

Carcinogenic pollution

(NaturalNews) Cancer-causing pollution at a US Marine base shows that chemical manufacturing is being done without any human safety precautions or long-term epidemiological studies. It's the norm in America to manufacture a chemical first, dump it into the land and then see how it affects people over time. All for the sake of advancing industry, we disregard one another's health. What's even sadder is that courts may often side with chemical manufacturers even after they have ruined the lives of people living in a contaminated area.

Isn't it sad to think that families of US Marines were subjected to carcinogenic solvents on a military camp of all places? Even worse -- these people have been denied justice because of a controversial Supreme Court ruling.

CTS Corporation let off the hook after haphazardly poisoning families with trichloroethylene for years

In the case of CTS Corp. vs. Waldburger, 23 residents of Asheville, North Carolina, sued CTS Corporation, an electronics manufacturer, for tainting residents' drinking water with a cancer-causing solvent called trichloroethylene. CTS Corporation was not reprimanded for harming the residents; they were not instructed to stop this haphazard behavior. They were let off the hook in a 7-2 Supreme Court ruling which concluded that the lawsuit had been brought forth too late.

A ruling like this encourages corporations to dump unsafe chemicals into the land and waterways, without conducting any kind of safety tests, and without giving any regard to the effects that their chemicals have on environment and people. This is a sickening precedent and a "complete miscarriage of justice," said Richard Frandsen, who served as chief environmental counsel for the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

The case came down to one question, defined differently by both federal and state laws: How long do victims of toxic exposure have to sue once they've found out who caused their illness?

North Carolina law works against victims of toxic exposure

According to federal Superfund law amended in 1986, once plaintiffs have discovered the polluter behind their illness, they then have three years to bring forth a legal claim. According to North Carolina law, a statute of repose gives victims of toxic exposure 10 years to file a legal claim from the polluter's last culpable act. This means that victims have a 10-year window to make the connection between their illness and the polluter. The Superfund law gives victims unlimited time to make the connection, as long as they bring the case forward within three years after the discovery. But in this case, North Carolina law trumped federal Superfund law, and according to the Asheville Citizen-Times, "Residents near the CTS plant on Mills Gap Road first noticed the pollution in 1999, 13 years after the plant closed and 12 years after CTS sold the property." [emphasis added] By finding out about the contamination two to three years after the 10-year cut-off period, the residents no longer had a viable legal case. This effectively eliminated the validity of their legal claim. In the end, it was documented that CTS dumped chemicals, including trichloroethylene, from 1959 to 1985 on 54 acres of property.

In 2011, the EPA classified trichloroethylene as a carcinogen. For over a decade, residents on Mills Gap Road were living on property and drinking from wells loaded with cancer-causing chemicals.

No hope for Marine families whose lives were ruined at Camp Lejeune

The industry sell-out Supreme Court ruling had important implications for residents living near Mills Gap Road, but it also affected millions of people who lived at a large military base not too far from the contaminated property. Several families were exposed to the cancer-causing chemicals in wells during the 1980s at Marine Camp Lejeune. For years, families living on the base were poisoned with water tainted with trichloroethylene, the dry cleaning solvent perchlorothylene and the gasoline component benzene. Hundreds of former Lejeune residents have filed claims against the Department of Defense, but it has all been for naught ever since the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the polluter, CTS Corporation.

Mike Partain, who was born at Camp Lejeune and suffered from breast cancer as an adult, said feverishly, "Today the U.S. Supreme Court has effectively turned the environmental clock back to the 19th century and the days of robber barons and the Wild West. Now corporate America and our own government have been enabled by our highest court to completely disregard the public health for benefit of the almighty dollar."

Frandsen, who is a Capitol Hill environmental lawyer, says that federal Superfund law was intended to give victims of toxic exposure ample time to make a connection between an instance of pollution and onset of illness, saying that the North Carlina statute of repose works against victims and "completely undermines congressional intent."

The state law, which may be adopted by other states looking to curtail federal environmental laws, makes no allowance for the long latency of illness and does not account for the challenges of large-scale epidemiology.

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